It was 4 years ago when my hair started falling out at the age of 44. I was away with work and I hardly ever take selfies (or photos of myself) but I liked the light in the hotel room so I snapped a quick photo to change my profile picture on Facebook. 

Little did I know that this would be the last picture taken of me with long hair. Within a month all I was left with was a strip on top of my head that looked like I’d adopted a Mohican in a midlife crisis!

I can’t even begin to explain the mix of emotions when your hair rapidly starts falling out in clumps - blind panic, confusion, tears and hopelessness all rolled into one. I went to the doctors expecting answers (even paid privately to see a specialist that I couldn’t afford) ...... I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata and given some steroid cream for my head (that did absolutely nothing) - you start to realise that there isn’t a cure, no tablets that you can take that will bring your hair back. My crowning glory was gone and was probably not going to come back anytime soon.

I am a camerawoman for TV so used to being behind the camera. Over the years I have learnt to try and separate my emotions when filming people for news - you have to, otherwise some days you just wouldn’t be able to cope with the upsetting and stressful stories/images we sometimes deal with. I have filmed women with cancer and the most frightening thing they usually talk about is losing their hair. This is what I kept telling myself - I didn’t have cancer and there are people out there a lot worse off than me..... it’s only ‘hair’ and I would feel guilty for even remotely feeling sorry for myself.

After a year my hair started to grow back and finally I could breathe again and start to blend into the crowd  without feeling that people were staring at me.

Then, just before Christmas two years ago I saw my hair falling into the sink again, I knew what was happening and within a week it had all gone .... Boxing Day was spent shaving my head and in tears.

In fairness, first time round I hadn’t done much research into alopecia as it came back and I wrongly assumed that that was it, my hair was back for life. This time though it was a lot worse, as within another week my eyebrows and eyelashes also disappeared and I was diagnosed with Alopecia Universalis. I wasn’t even left with the strip of hair that had been my safety blanket the first time round. No mohican this time around! 

It’s hard to explain how it feels to look in the mirror and not recognise the featureless person starring back at you (and to feel sick and repulsed by that image). I don’t have any photos of me bald and without eyebrows or eyelashes as it was too upsetting and traumatic to even take a photo. The mental and psychological struggle of ‘mourning’ your hair loss is very real and has absolutely nothing to do with cosmetic or physical appearances. I struggled more the second time losing my hair firstly because I wasn’t expecting it to go again, and secondly because this time it was AU and everything had gone and was highly likely never to return (and knowing there’s no cure).

Society has told us what beauty looks like and there is a stigma surrounding hair loss that is unattractive and ugly. The infuriating thing with alopecia is that it is such a visible condition, there is nowhere to hide. I have a really nice wig that I have worn once that just makes me feel even more self conscious and anxious, so I cover up with beanie hats and baseball caps.

The first year after being diagnosed with AU was horrendous. I completely shut down and isolated myself - apart from going to work and walking the dogs (and crying) I think I went out twice on an evening the entire year. I was depressed, anxious and exhausted with constantly having to think about how I was going to hide from the world - I felt vulnerable, embarrassed and exposed..... it took all my strength to get out of bed and out of the house on a morning. I also lost confidence in both my personal and professional life to the almost crippling point of feeling paralysed and unable to function.

Being told to 'toughen up' and that it was 'just alopecia' didn’t help, as well as my complete hair loss in just a week being compared to male balding in older men, or the innuendo of someone asking if I’d lost hair everywhere.

Most people have been lovely though, it’s hard to know what to say.... ‘at least you’ve got a nice shaped head ’ ..... luckily I have and I really don’t know what I’d say to someone if the situation was reversed. Truth is I think the healing and the self confidence has to come from within, and until you are ready to do that then there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel any better.

I am now two years down the line and doing a lot better. I keep taking baby steps and forcing myself to deal with this unpredictable condition. Luckily my eyelashes have come back - going out to buy mascara was like winning the lottery !! I’ve had my eyebrows done (nano-needles) and had a few more piercings and tattoos.

The huge thing for me is that I am currently having micro pigmentation on my scalp. I know wigs aren’t for me - I’ve never been into fancy dress and that’s what it feels like wearing one (plus it just feels uncomfortable and one more thing to worry about working out in the wind, rain, blazing hot sun etc.) Having the shading on my scalp and actually having a hair line back has already boosted my confidence a million percent (I’ve barely even felt the 35 hours of a needle going into my scalp) - I am embracing my bald head even though it’s not exactly the look I was expecting approaching 50 !

Yes, there are a lot worse things in life, but I’ve realised it’s not and never will be 'just hair.’ 

I’m sure most people can think of a bad haircut they’ve had or a bad hair day, week, year..... but I wonder if they could try to imagine not having any hair and feeling naked and exposed all of the time, or worrying that people think you’ve just walked into the wrong cubicle when using a public toilet. The choice to have or not have hair has been taken from me and there is nowhere to hide. I have a constant feeling that people are starring or judging me (even though the more I remove my hat/headcovering, the more I realise that most aren’t).

Women are encouraged to pluck, shave and wax everything from the eyebrows down, but dare to bare your scalp and it’s a different matter. No one even looks twice at a man that has shaved his head, but for a woman there has to be a reason behind it. A shaved head is seen as a defiance of the conventional ideas of female beauty, whereas a bald head is a vision of being sick or unwell. 

I try not to take any notice of what social media or society portrays as ideal or beautiful, I’ve realised it’s about finding your own inner happiness and body image.

I am early on in my alopecia journey and making peace with it. I still look in the mirror and see a stranger looking back at me and my life has completely changed with a new partner, different house, different pets, different car and a completely different appearance from four years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am happier than I’ve been in my entire life, I just need to build my confidence back up and embrace that woman staring back at me in the mirror. Maybe it’s who I was always meant to be and now I have a blank canvas to create a whole new look. Even though the choice to not have hair was taken away from me, I do have the choice to change my appearance in other ways and that is something I can control. In no way whatsoever am I saying a bald head is bad or ugly, it’s personal choice. Choosing to have the micro pigmentation and make it look like I’ve shaved my head has given me so much more confidence and will allow me to hopefully take my life back and get back out there.

I am now able to sit in a restaurant without covering up or hiding away, and also brave enough to take my hat off in the huge open plan office. The big test for me will be walking down the street without a hat on when it gets warmer, but I will do it and hold my head up high.

To anyone out there struggling with alopecia, keep fighting, stand tall, embrace your look and find what works for you to give you the confidence to go out there and take on the world!

Thank you to family and friends for being there even when I’ve tried to hide away and isolate myself, but thank you most of all to my partner Gill for saving me xxx

I am hoping sharing my story helps others and I would also like to raise a few bob for Alopecia UK so that they can carry on with the fantastic work they are doing!